Baseball’s Chance to Come Back from the Dead

Baseball is dying. Usually I include a photo of a game with a post on baseball but I haven’t been to a single game yet in 2014, and the season if more than a quarter done. It is poor form to extrapolate from your own experience across the entire population but for the topic of baseball, I think it is appropriate.

The buzz on baseball here in Chicago is zero. Absolutely zero. I don’t hear people talking about baseball, or even mentioning baseball.

There are some semi-unique circumstances in Illinois tied to the fact that the Blackhawks are still in the playoffs and there is a lot of excitement about the Bears. On the other hand, NBA basketball suffered with the loss of Derrick Rose (again) and college football here is nothing compared to what you’d see in SEC country (Division Zero as Dan and I refer to it).

Not only are the games for Chicago mostly terrible (the White Sox are more competitive than expected, and the Cubs’ fate is worse than expected, but neither are close to being contenders), the games usually seem to be very long and on late at night. When I check my mobile in the morning I can see the updates that I get every 3 innings and at the conclusion of the game and they often end after midnight, especially if the games are on the West Coast. There seems to be a lot of bad, slow moving, cold and night baseball being served. As a fan, that’s an awful concoction.

Some good news for Chicago fans is that Mark Buehrle, a great former pitcher for the White Sox, is now tearing it up for the first place Toronto Blue Jays. He is 8-1 with a great ERA. He had a rough couple years with the disaster down in Miami but Toronto is doing well and so is he. I hope that he makes it to the Hall of Fame in the end, even if it isn’t with the White Sox.

Mark Buehrle represents one way baseball can crawl out of its hole – fast performance. The White Sox games I saw when Buehrle pitched were the fastest moving games of the year. Time flew by as there was no wasted motion and he just got the ball and pitched right away and generally tried to throw strikes instead of nibbling at the plate. If somehow baseball could move all the games to that pace it would hugely increase fan attention at the game.

Another way would be to appoint a media savvy commissioner to try to arrest the decline of the sport. There are rumors that the CEO of Disney, Iger, is interested in being the head of baseball, instead of the lifeless, inert Bud Selig. This would be an enormous improvement since Iger effectively knows everything about media, how to reach people, and how to structure entertainment. Baseball could never pay him what he would be worth in the open market, but if he was willing to take on the role out of love for the game this would be a giant ray of hope for baseball. The rumor is that the head of the White Sox (and Bulls), Jerry Reinsdorf, is the guy who is pushing for an outsider to come in and save the sport, instead of riding it into the sunset as ancient Selig wants to do with an insider that will likely just ride the current trajectory into the ground.

Not that anyone will listen, but here are my tips for saving baseball:

1. Get games closer to 2 hours than the typical 3 1/2 to 4 hours
2. Play from May to August (100 games) instead of 162
3. Start the playoffs in September and end them by early October
4. Effectively break the union (like the NFL and NBA did) and take the costs out of the player side to offsite what the owners will lose in lost game revenue, so it nets out on both sides
5. Break with tradition where it makes sense to add appeal to the game; some sort of home run derby or shootout instead of extra innings
6. Limit substitutions on pitchers and institute the DH rule instead of having pitchers bat
7. Have many games in normal hours and weekends so that kids can see them
8. Fold terrible, useless franchises like Houston and Kansas City if they can’t field competitive teams

Cross posted at LITGM

17 thoughts on “Baseball’s Chance to Come Back from the Dead”

  1. I was at my grandson’s little league game last week and the game is doing well out here in Mission Viejo CA. Lots of fields for baseball and soccer. Professional baseball has never been much of an attraction for me. My younger son and his family are big fans.

  2. I liked baseball better when it was cheaper and less extravagant. I recently saw someone at work wearing an Orioles jacket and we started talking about baseball. I told her that when I was child, the Orioles (and I assume MLB) had a Junior Orioles program for kids under 12. For about $12, you got three bleachers tickets sent to you in the mail for three different games. Included was a coupon for each game where you got a hot dog and a coke for $1. We could catch a bus and see a baseball game and have a hot dog and coke for about $5 total.

    Also, this was before all kids sports were organized and run by adults. We played baseball all the time, but they were all pick-up games. We’d walk around the neighborhood, ask other kids if they wanted to play baseball, then go over the elementary school and play. From the time I was 8 or 9 till I was about 17 I always had a baseball glove. And it well oiled too. :) We also played wiffle-ball in our alley. That fence post is first base, the joint in the concrete by the puddle is second, that sort of thing. Even curb ball or step ball or wall ball would do if you couldn’t find anyone. Seems like those ‘pick up game’ days are over, gone the way of Huck Finn’s raft I guess.

    By the way, can you imagine parents allowing their 11 or 12 year olds to catch a bus across town, go to a baseball game in the city, then make their way home (sometimes on foot) by themselves today? No one batted an eye at it then.

  3. To add insult to injury, this weekend the Padres hosted the Cubs and commemorated the 30 year anniversary of their 1984 NL championship team that beat the Cubs. The Cubs were up two games to none, but then commenced a collapse so typical of the ball club, complete with generation spanning lowlights such as ground balls trickling between their legs and opposing stars hitting game winning walk-off home runs.

    The Padres went on to lose to the Detroit Tigers. The interesting thing about that World Series was it began the tradition of the winning team’s fans rioting and burning the city down. Detroit was a real trail blazer, so to speak.

  4. If I had only the Cubs and White Sox to root for, I would want the entire league disbanded at the least, and likely consider suicide (or watch the WNBA which is much the same).

    Thankfully, the game is quite fun elsewhere. You need to purchase the MLB baseball package and find some new teams to follow.

  5. The problem the White Sox have is they’re a small market team in a large market. They have to make small moves that pay off big, as opposed to big splash signings of free agents.

    They’ve done pretty well with signing Cubans defectors, and have one of the best young sluggers in the league with Jose Abreu.

    The Cubs problem is they aren’t just a team but an historically protected civic
    institution. Everything now is overshadowed by the neighborhood political issues. The owner just came out last week and basically said he won’t field a winning team unless he can maximize revenue at the ball park, which means signs and jumbotrons and others things which will turn Wrigley into a modern stadium instead of a cultural phenomenon favored by local business owners and politicians.

  6. Michael Hiteshew,

    Love the picture you paint of a baseball-crazed youth which sounds much like mine.


    2. Play from May to August (100 games) instead of 162:”

    Yes indeed; this seems obvious.

    6. … institute the DH rule instead of having pitchers bat

    Wait… what??? Are you a heretic? Let’s burn you at the stake!!!!!

  7. BTW, your point #6 (DH for all games) is in conflict with your point #1 (shorten games).

    And I think your home run derby instead of extra innings idea would unfairly punish those teams that build their offenses around OBP and speed instead of power. Maybe you’re a Cubs fan who still hates the late 80s Cards?

    Shifting more games to day time would be tough, especially in non-domed/retractable roof stadiums in the hot parts of the country. I know the appeal of a day game in Texas, KC, or Atlanta in July or August is pretty small to me.

    As far as atmosphere goes, maybe you should go to San Francisco or Oakland. SF has always been a baseball town, and is baseball crazy right now, thanks to 2 championships in 4 years. Their stadium is always rocking (one announcer at a playoff game in 2010 said it was as loud as and SEC football game) and the Giants and As are two of the best teams in the game.

  8. It’s time to get rid of interleague play altogether. It interferes with divisional matches that actually matter, and, along with the expanded playoffs, it has watered down the quality of competition.

    One thing good thing about the A’s is they beat the steroid era by popularizing advanced statistical analysis. The drawback to moneyball though is that it’s never able to get over the hump and win it all. It seems there are intangibles required to be a champion that can’t be easily quantified.

    One specific quality that comes to mind, as we’re seeing in the NHL playoffs now (unfortunately for our Blackhawks), is unanticipated contributions from unexpected role players. Sabermetrics just can’t sort these players out of a their mounds of data.

  9. The largest city in my area has a TX-LA League (or whatever they are calling it this year) team that is very popular. The games sell out on a regular basis, and players work hard to get to play for the team (Amarillo Sox). Why so successful? In part because the management goes out of its way to appeal to families, with weekend and early evening games, kids’ batting derbies during the 7th Inning Stretch, charity nights, and other things. And tickets and munchies at prices that won’t break the bank. Hint, hint, MLB, hint, hint.

    And quit picking on my Astros! Someone has to be the horrible warning.

  10. Where do you live TxRed? I grew up in Garden City/St. Lawrence (about 30 miles south of Big Spring).

    I always wanted to hit a few Sox games when I was growing up, but never had the opportunity to make the 4 hour drive.

  11. Your ideas are right. Shorten the season, more day games, more double-headers, and give away tickets to kids who won’t spend all their time on the phone.

  12. Don’t Mexicans and some other Central Americans like baseball? Maybe the millions of them now living in the U.S. will help save it.

  13. Latinos play in their own country, but immigrants in the US do not. They live in the inner city, and baseball is increasingly a suburban sport.
    The center of gravity of the sport is really in the Caribbean right now, and the reason is cultural and economic expediency, similar to basketball for urban blacks.

    Sports have turned into a businees on the professional level, and some of that formalism and functionalism has rubbed off on youth competitions too. As Michael Hiteshew mentioned, they aren’t playing for fun anymore as much as advancement.

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